Shortly before going into August recess, Senate Democrats gave approval for the For the People Act (S.1) to move out of committee for future debate. While the issue has been harshly debated for nearly a year now, it is likely to be near the top of Democrats’ docket after they return.
For some congressional Democrats like Rep. Terri Sewell (D-Ala.), advancing election bills through both chambers is a top priority. In an opinion piece published in the Montgomery Advertiser, Sewell argued that state-level voter integrity laws are putting the Voting Rights Act (VRA) of 1965 “in peril.” Sewell compared the “state-level effort to restrict the right to vote” to “modern-day Jim Crow attacks.” On top of this, Sewell criticized the Supreme Court (SCOTUS) for having “dealt a series of disastrous blows to the VRA, gutting key provisions and rendering it all but toothless.”
Speaking about the same subject on the House floor, Sewell referenced two such “disastrous blows” by SCOTUS.
First, she pointed to the 2013 decision in Shelby County v. Holder (pdf), when SCOTUS struck down a section that required federal approval for states to change their voting laws. SCOTUS ruled that the situation had changed so dramatically between 1965 and 2013 that the “extraordinary measures” employed by the bill could no longer be justified.
She also mentioned Brnovich v. Democratic National Committee (2013). Arizona was brought before SCOTUS to defend two laws relating to mail-in or absentee ballots. The first banned anyone other than a legal relative or caregiver from collecting these ballots; the second required that ballots cast in the wrong precinct be discarded. The Democratic National Committee (DNC) argued that these laws constituted an attempt “to deny or abridge the right of any citizen of the United States to vote on account of race or color” and were a violation of the VRA. SCOTUS sided 6-3 with Arizona, determining that neither rule was enacted by the state with discriminatory intent and thus was not a VRA violation.
Speaking on the House floor, Sewell decried these state laws: “[they] would restrict the right to vote … by subjecting voters to longer lines, inaccessible polling places, strict voter ID requirements, broken voting machines, purges of voter rolls, and voter registration complications.”
In response to this, Sewell says she has introduced a bill in the House called the “John R. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act,” (H.R. 4) that will “restore key provisions of the VRA that were gutted by the Supreme Court.” Further, the bill “would once again prohibit any state or jurisdiction with a history of discrimination from implementing any election changes without receiving preclearance from U.S. Department of Justice.”
By Joseph Lord